Battling Poverty With Tiny Bits of Cash

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bishoftu – At the outskirts of this town, 45 kilometres south of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, Aselefech Desalegn fights the flames she uses for baking enjera, Ethiopia’s staple flatbread. Like millions of poor Ethiopian women, she is also constantly battling to feed her children.

In recent years her livelihood has been supplying enjera to hotels in the town. “Except for the chair you see over there, all you see in the house comes from Buusaa Gonofaa,” she says, referring to the microfinance organization that has helped fund her home-based business.

Fifteen years ago Aselefech left her poor parents behind in a nearby rural settlement and moved to this town (which was previously called Debre Zeit). Since many rural families in Ethiopia harvest but once a year, it has become common for rural youth like Aselefech to either migrate to urban areas or even to Middle Eastern countries where they work as house maids.

After getting her first 500 birr (about US$30) loan from Buusaa Gonofaa seven years ago, Aselefech started selling charcoal and eggs on the side roads of Bishoftu. “Although I earned better than in my previous job as a cook in a hotel, I couldn’t resist the heat and rain on the street. The business also took me away from my kids,” she recalls. So after three years she switched to baking enjera and distributing it to hotels. That has enabled her to be close to her children, even though the heat from the fire remains a challenge.

Aselefech is now among Buusaa Gonofaa’s regular clients, with access to $455 in loans, repayable at either 9 per cent interest over six months or 18 per cent per year. From the profits selling enjera, she can not only take care of her children, but also send money back to her family to help them obtain food and to fatten their cattle.

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